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The Case Against a Demagogue

Demagogue - a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

Much ink has been spilled and many pixels have been lit by writers and bloggers and pundits and Facebook friends about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. With only one day left before we vote, writing about my own views now may see them washed out in all the noise, or simply ignored by many made-up minds. Yet because we are about to make a momentous choice (for many, an unfortunate choice), I am compelled to make a case. If there is anyone left who may still be wondering what to do, maybe it will shed some useful light on what we face.

This year’s election puts us in the extraordinary situation of having to choose between two candidates who are perhaps more damaged than any in history. While I agree with quite a bit of the criticism by each side against its respective opponent, my view, simply stated, is this: we cannot elect a demagogue to lead our country.

Donald Trump is the definition of a demagogue, a man pandering to the worst tendencies of a small but notable slice of society. His momentum has spread from that group and swept up a frighteningly large number of others who just want someone – anyone – to make changes – any changes – to shake up our political system. His appeal is one of catering to frustrations, making grandiose promises, and reassuring those who want to believe in a message of strength and jingoism, even though he offers very few specific plans, ignores facts, and propagates outright lies. Regardless of what he says, what is most important to a large part of this group is that he is the alternative to the much-vilified Hillary Clinton. Trump is hoping to ride a wave of hype and hysteria to the White House. To those who support him because he is the “non-politician” satisfying their thirst for upending the system, you may get what you wish for. And you may regret it.

The politics Trump promotes should be deeply troubling to those who want true change. If it isn’t already obvious, take a fingernail and flake off the thin coat of garish paint he’s slapped on his brand of populism and see what hides underneath. He rises on a shaky foundation of fear and anger. It is nothing new. What his election to the highest political office on the planet would mean for all of us is alarming.

What Trump represents may have first been revealed by his comments about Mexican immigrants in June of 2015:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, there was a TV commercial featuring a man with his grandson fishing on a quiet lake in a rowboat. The child mentions that someone called him prejudiced, and mentions his friend, his Jewish friend, and the grandfather points out how calling him that is an example of being prejudiced. It is a mild portrayal of unintentionally bad behavior compared to that willfully demonstrated by Trump. The point is, most of us learned as children that making judgments about a person based on race or religion is wrong, or at least we all should have learned that.

Trump embraces that kind of ignorance, concentrates it into a potion, and makes it into a bomb. I was floored when I saw the now Republican presidential candidate allege that Mexican immigrants are typically criminals, and speculating that – yes! – there may be some that are good people. That single event forced me to consider this man unfit for the presidency. He never had to elaborate or say anything else. Those comments were completely unacceptable and should have been enough to disqualify him from anyone’s consideration. I was certain that that would be the end of his campaign, but it was just a preview of the race-baiting and xenophobia that would drive his support. He continued to build on it with a litany of crazy shit he did and said, all actively defended by his most rabid supporters and cronies. A small and incomplete list follows:

There is a lot I’m leaving out because it would take hours to compile it all. See “176 Reasons Donald Trump Shouldn’t Be President” for a whole bunch more, written in mid-September, before some of his most damning controversies erupted.

While there are people who will see many of these items as disqualifying, others will see them less critically. To the latter group, these things may only prove that Trump is an oaf, or they are relatively minor, or he doesn’t mean them, or that Hillary Clinton is just so much worse. While I may disagree overall, I get all that. My enthusiasm for Clinton, for example, has never been high (an understatement). However, you have to take what candidates say seriously. It is now a stark choice, one he has made thoroughly certain I don’t need to deliberate.

What I think might make an even stronger case for Trump’s unsuitability and ineptitude for the job of president is highlighted by what others have said about him – others who are not just experienced in governing our country, but Republicans who are, or have been, opposed to him. Here is a partial list of quotes by Republicans:

I am leaving a lot off this list as well. See “Which Republicans Oppose Donald Trump? A Cheat Sheet”, “50 GOP Officials Warn Donald Trump Would Put Nation’s Security at Risk”, and “Open Letter on Donald Trump from GOP National Security Leaders” for more.

Maybe the most troubling development in this election is the support Trump has received from white supremacist groups, exemplified by just one example here:

The support for Trump from the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and many hate groups is frightening. To be fair, Trump has renounced these endorsements, but he was slow to do so when they began early in the campaign, and some of his behavior, such as retweeting an anti-Semitic image of Hillary Clinton from a white supremacist message board, leaves me concerned about how much he values the support from these groups. Thankfully, I think this is not an indication of what most Trump supporters believe, and hopefully, the most these groups can ever aspire to is relegation to the fringes of a fading piece of our culture.

On Election Day, I will do what I can to deny Trump the presidency. That doesn’t mean I will be happy with the result, but the choice for two qualified candidates was never given to me. The Republicans took that possibility away when they nominated Trump. The blame for the outcome of this election, whatever it is, rests largely with them.

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